Saving hours of work with AI: How ChatGPT became my virtual assistant for a data project

Ever wondered how to leverage AI for mundane tasks? I'll demonstrate how ChatGPT turned hours of grunt work into minutes, using a shopping challenge on Temu.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
David Gewirtz/ZDNET

There's certainly been a lot of golly-wow, gee-whiz press about generative artificial intelligence (AI) over the past year or so. I'm certainly guilty of producing some of it myself. But tools like ChatGPT are also just that: tools. They can be used to help out with projects just like other productivity software.

Today, I'll walk you through a quick project where ChatGPT saved me a few hours of grunt work. While you're unlikely to need to do the same project, I'll share my thinking for the prompts, which may inspire you to use ChatGPT as a workhorse tool for some of your projects.

Also: 4 generative AI tools your enterprise can leverage to boost productivity

This is just the sort of project I would have assigned to a human assistant, back when I had human assistants. I'm telling you this fact because I structured the assignments for ChatGPT similarly to how I would have for someone working for me, back when I was sitting in a cubicle as a managerial cog of a giant corporation.

The project

In a month or so, I'll post what I like to call a "stunt article." Stunt articles are projects I come up with that are fun and that I know readers will be interested in. The article I'm working on is a rundown of how much computer gear I can buy from Temu for under $100 total. I came in at $99.77.

Putting this article together involved looking on the Temu site for items to spotlight. For example, I found an iPad keyboard and mouse that cost about $6.

Also: Is Temu legit? What to know before you place an order

To stay under my $100 budget, I wanted to add all the Temu links to a spreadsheet, find each price, and then move things around until I got the exact total budget I wanted to spend.

The challenge was converting the Temu links into something useful. That's where ChatGPT came in.

Phase 1: Gathering the links

The first thing I did was gather all my links. For each product, I copied the link from Temu and pasted it into a Notion page. When pasting a URL, Notion gives you the option to create bookmark blocks that not only contain links but also contain, crucially, product names. Here's a snapshot of that page:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As you can see, I've started selecting the blocks. Once you select all the blocks, you can copy them. I just pasted the entire set into a text editor, which looked like this:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

The page looks ugly, but the result is useful.

Phase 2: Identifying the data

Let's take a look at one of the data blocks. I switched my editor out of dark mode so it's easier for you to see the data elements in the block:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

There are three key elements. The gold text shows the name of the product, surrounded by braces. The green text is the base URL of the product, surrounded by parenthesis. There's a question mark that separates the main page URL from all the random tracking data passed to the Temu page. I just wanted the main URL. The purple sections highlight the delimiters -- this is the data we're going to feed into ChatGPT.

Phase 3: Teaching ChatGPT to recognize the data

I first fed ChatGPT this prompt:

Accept the following data and await further instructions.

Then I copied all the information from the text editor and pasted it into ChatGPT. At this point, ChatGPT knew to wait for more details.

The next step is where the meat of the project took place. I wanted ChatGPT to pull out the titles and the links, and leave the rest behind. Here's that prompt:

The data above consists of a series of blocks of data. At the beginning of each block is a section within [] brackets. For each block, designate this as TITLE.

Following the [] brackets is an open paren (followed by a web URL). For each block, extract that URL, but dispose of everything following the question mark, and also dispose of the question mark. Most URLs will then end in .html. We will designate this as URL.

For each block, display the TITLE followed by a carriage return, followed by the URL, followed by two newlines.

This process accomplished two things. It allowed me to name the data, so I could refer to it later. The process also allowed me to test whether ChatGPT understood the assignment.

Also: How to use ChatGPT

ChatGPT did the assignment correctly but stopped about two-thirds through when its buffer ran out. I told the bot to continue and got the rest of the data.

Doing this process by hand would have involved lots of annoying cutting and pasting. ChatGPT did the work in less than a minute.

Phase 4: Cleaning up Temu's overly complex titles

For my project, Temu's titles are just too much. Instead of:

10 Inch LCD Writing Tablet, Electronis Memo With Leather Protective Case, Electronic Drawing Board For Digital Handwriting Pad Doodle Board, Gifts For

I wanted something more like:

LCD writing tablet with case

I gave this assignment to ChatGPT as well. I reminded the tool that it had previously parsed and identified the data. I find that reminding ChatGPT about a previous step helps it more reliably incorporate that step into subsequent steps. Then I told it to give me titles. Here's that prompt:

You just created a list with TITLE and URL. Do you remember? For the above items, please summarize the TITLE items in 4-6 words each. Only capitalize proper words and the first word. Give it back to me in a bullet list.

I got back a list like this, but for all 26 items:

  • LCD writing tablet with case
  • 360-degree rotating tablet stand
  • 1080p video capture device
  • USB 3.0 HDMI capture card
  • Advanced sound card for professionals
  • USB 3.0 expansion card

Phase 5: Create a list with links

My goal was to copy and paste this list of clickable links into Excel so I could use column math to play around with the items I planned to order, adding and removing items until I got to my $100 budget. I wanted the names clickable in the spreadsheet because it would be much easier to manage and jump back and forth between Temu and my project spreadsheet.

So, my final ChatGPT task was to turn the list above into a set of clickable links. Again, I started by reminding the tool of the work it had completed. Then I told it to create a list with links:

Do you see the bulleted list you just created? That is a list of summarized titles.

Okay, make the same list again, but turn each summarized title into a live web link with its corresponding URL.

And that was that. I got all the links I needed and ChatGPT did all the grunt work. I pasted the results into my spreadsheet, chose the products, and placed the order.

Also: 6 ways ChatGPT can make your everyday life easier

This is the final spreadsheet. There were more products when I started the process, but I added and removed them from the REMAINING column until I got the budget I was aiming for:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

The benefit of ChatGPT as a tool

This was a project I could have done myself. But it would have required a ton of cutting and pasting, and a reasonable amount of extra thought to summarize all the product titles. It would have taken me two or three hours of grunt work and probably added to my wrist pain.

But by thinking this work through as an assignment that could be delegated, the entire ChatGPT experience took me less than 10 minutes. It probably took me less time to use ChatGPT to do all that grunt work and write this article than it would have taken me to do all that cutting, pasting, and summarizing.

Also: Thanks to my 5 favorite AI tools, I'm working smarter now

This sort of project isn't fancy and it isn't sexy. But it saved me a few hours of work I would have found tedious and unpleasant. Next time you have a data-parsing project, consider using ChatGPT.

Oh, and stay tuned. As soon as Temu sends me their haul, I'll post the detailed article about how much tech gear you can get for under $100. It'll be fun. See you there.

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